How should you reward people? What concerns should you have about offering rewards to your employees? One important factor to consider: Will the employees compare rewards with one another? Will those who receive smaller rewards be highly dissatisfied? Extensive research shows that people engage in social comparisons. They care not just about how much they receive, but how much they receive as compared to their peers. Kellogg Professor Neal Roese and doctoral student Jingjing Ma have conducted some fascinating research with regard to reward comparisons. They have shown that making rewards less "countable" can reduce the "likelihood that recipients will compare rewards, which in turn increases their satisfaction."
The original experiment went as follows. They created two groups of students: an "overbenefit" group and an"underbenefit" group. The groups split a fixed reward 60/40. One half of each group received a "countable" reward - i.e. cash. The other half received an "uncountable" reward - i.e. a slice of cake. Naturally, people who received higher rewards were more satisfied in both cases (cash and cake). However, between the two "underbenefit" groups, the recipients of cake were much less dissatisfied than the recipients of cash rewards.
Kellogg Insights provides the scholars' explanations of this result: "According to Ma, offering cake encouraged the recipients to focus on
the experiential aspect of their reward—'oh, this cake is delicious,'
she says—instead of 'thinking about how they received less than the